U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter sprayed with chemical irritant while covering clashing LA protests

Incident Details

Date of Incident
June 23, 2024


Was the journalist targeted?

Reporter Cam Higby, center, recovers after being sprayed with a chemical irritant while covering clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters outside a synagogue in Los Angeles, California, on June 23, 2024.

June 23, 2024

Reporter Cam Higby was pepper-sprayed while documenting clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters in Los Angeles, California, on June 23, 2024. At least nine journalists were assaulted while covering the violence that day.

The conflict began after the Southern California chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement called for demonstrators to meet at noon outside the Adas Torah synagogue in the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood in west LA to protest the alleged sale of occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Multiple journalists told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that scuffles, brawls and exchanges of pepper spray broke out in the streets nearby between the protesters and counterprotesters.

Individuals from both sides — including a rabbi and security volunteers from the Jewish community — attempted to intervene and prevent the violence from escalating. CNN reported that Los Angeles Police Department officers established a perimeter around the synagogue.

Higby told the Tracker that he arrived at the synagogue at approximately 11:30 a.m. and found police and private security hired by the congregation staging around the entrance. He said he filmed from behind the perimeter law enforcement established for nearly an hour before crossing into the street where protesters and counterprotesters were brawling.

“I had been on the street for probably about 60 seconds before I saw bear spray flying through the air. And my first instinct when I see a scuffle is to run over so I can get it on camera, and that’s when I was bear-Maced,” Higby said.

In footage captured by Higby’s body-worn camera, a woman wearing a kaffiyeh can be seen spraying first at men who had just pushed her, before turning and spraying a second time directly at Higby.

Immediately after being sprayed, Higby can be heard crying out in pain and multiple journalists — including independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel and Left Coast Right Watch reporter Kate Burns — are seen coming to his aid. (Both journalists were assaulted by individuals they identified as people at the pro-Israeli demonstration later that day.)

“Hey, look at me. Get your heart rate down. Breathe through your nose. I know it’s awful. Somebody will get water soon, OK? We’re going to flush it, all right,” Beckner-Carmitchel instructs.

One of the rabbis working to prevent fights then escorts Higby to a nearby sidewalk and has him sit while someone goes to bring a medic over to treat him.

Higby told the Tracker that he was wearing a press credential from Today Is America, which he described as a digital news media and commentary site. He also had both a camera and body camera recording, and believes he was deliberately targeted because he was filming.

He added that the LAPD officers didn’t appear to be doing anything to mitigate the scuffles between the demonstrators, and that he and a friend left the area not long after he was sprayed.

The LAPD said in a news release that officers were investigating two reports of battery at the protest and that one individual had been arrested for having a spiked post. A spokesperson for the department told the Tracker via email June 27 that they have no further information.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].